Characters & Pairings: Kotetsu/Barnaby, some Kotetsu/Tomoe, + ensemble (notably featuring Kaede, Agnes, Nathan, Karina, Antonio)
Rating: hard R
Summary: The city was complicated and dangerous, everything shrouded in facades, and maybe it was no wonder someone like Barnaby who'd never known anywhere else would be so reluctant to trust anyone. Still Kotetsu could imagine nothing lonelier than the childhood he'd spent in a safer and simpler place.
Notes: So it's been quite a while, but I put a lot of time and work into this fic and always wanted to come back to it sometime. This fic started on LJ but things are so dead here now I'm not sure I'll bother continuing to post it here, so if you want to keep following this story you can subscribe to me at AO3 or keep an eye on my Tumblr.
Take Your Daughter To Work Day
Kotetsu stood at his stove cooking some hot dogs in a pan as Kaede sat across from him on one of the kitchen stools, snacking on potato chips from a big bag on the counter as she leaned forward listening to him.
"So when Antonio found out his friends had kidnapped your mom to get me to go face them there, he got really mad," Kotetsu said, in the middle of a story from his latter teen years he had never been able to tell her before. "He'd had no idea that was part of their plan. Suddenly instead of trying to fight me, he was going after them, and meanwhile none of them had noticed yet that the place was filling with smoke because a fire had started. They still had your mom restrained in the next room, and she was so close to the smoke that by the time I got to her and had her untied she was close to passing out. Then I could see the old building was starting to come down, and I knew I had no choice." He held up the tongs in his hand and lowered his voice a pitch for drama. "I had to use my powers and risk exposing my secret to my enemies as well as the girl of my dreams."
Kaede raised a slightly skeptical eyebrow. "Was it really that big a secret?"
"Well, yeah. People had suspicions about me but very few people actually knew what I could do.” He gave the pan a shake to roll all the hot dogs around. "Where was I? Your mom, yeah, I had her untied from the...thing, a pillar in the middle of the...I don't remember. Anyway, I picked her up and shot out of there so quick the others couldn't even notice me gone. Here, give me your plate...After I left her outside, I ended up having to use my super strength to keep one of Antonio's jerk friends from getting trapped under something, and they all for sure saw me using it that time. Careful, these are hot..." He handed her back the plate with her hot dog after forking it into a bun.
"But Mom must have seen what you did too, didn't she?" Kaede asked, her eyes gone wide.
"Hold up, I'm getting there," he said with a grin, now preparing his own two hot dogs. "See, it was Antonio who was so shocked to see I'd had that in me the whole time. Especially since he’d been showing off his power and been ready to use it against me. He asked me why I had held back when I confronted him. And I said..." Kotetsu put everything down a moment and held up a finger in a showy gesture to go with the line, but then was interrupted as soon as he opened his mouth.
"Stop that," Kaede said with an impatient sigh. "Just tell the story."
He dropped his hands. "Fine." He picked up his plate and started walking around the counter to sit next to her at the other side. "What I told him was that I would never use my powers for selfish reasons like trying to impress people, because they're meant for helping people."
Smiling again now as he took a seat beside her, Kaede pointed out, "But you were trying to help Mom."
"Right," Kotetsu mumbled through his first bite. "But I doubted I even needed my powers to do that, and I was definitely pretty tempted to prove I could kick his ass without them."
He covered his mouth after realizing what he’d just said. Kaede's eyes squinted through a suppressed giggle and he gave her a playful nudge with his elbow.
"But now you’re friends," Kaede said, understandably sounding kind of confused about that.
"Yep. The best of friends. Your mother also ended up getting along fine with him eventually. And she, of course, had seen and overheard more than enough that night to put it together. So that’s how I once had to come to the rescue of Class Rep Amamiya long before she'd end up being my wife and your mother.”
"But you can't just leave it there," she said, like that made a crappy ending to the story. "What did she think of you being a NEXT?"
"She thought it was insanely cool," he answered honestly, the words muffled a little as he chewed again. "Eh, not that she said much about it at first. She knew I hadn't intended to reveal that to her and I guess wanted to respect my privacy until I seemed willing to open up about it. It could still be kind of a sensitive subject back then, you know. People weren't so blasé about the existence of super powers.”
"But didn't you ask her out after that?"
"No, uh…not then. Your mom, she was very popular. I kind of had to get in line."
Kaede turned to face him, crossing her arms with a look of disbelief. "You mean you were too scared?"
"Well, kinda, yeah. Don't look at me like that!" he said, pointing a finger at her. "Have you ever been in love? It's scarier than just about anything."
"Hmph." She looked away and started on her own hot dog. The unimpressed reaction so vividly reminded him of Tomoe's own annoyance with him in those days when he was still reluctant to act, and he found himself grinning big again and laughing. It was just so easy after all, talking to his daughter about everything he couldn't be honest about before, and he was taken over by an almost dizzying sense of relief and levity. As he threw an arm around her to hug her close to his side for a moment, she looked up at him with confusion, not understanding what was so funny as he had to wipe a happy tear from one eye. "What?"
"I'm just glad you're here," he said, and then let her squirm away with an adorably embarrassed look which just got him laughing again.
As he got both of them a second soda out of the fridge a moment later, Kaede asked, "Dad? Could my powers go away someday, too?"
The question sort of caught him off guard, but maybe shouldn’t have after the conversation they’d had earlier today. After he'd come home this morning and woken up Antonio, immediately taking his place on the couch after he was gone to nap off the rest of his drowsiness, he had later woken up to find something was different about the apartment. After getting out of bed, Kaede had spent the morning taking out a lot of the stuff he had packed in boxes for the move and filling up his shelves and drawers again. Of course now practically nothing was put back where he was used to keeping it, but she had arranged everything pretty neatly and she innocently acted almost like maybe he wouldn't notice what she'd been up to. It was a bit startling to see she wanted him to stay here and keep being a Hero that much, and he had needed to finally take a moment to sit her down and explain the reason he was going to have to retire.
She had seemed a little heartbroken, and as Kotetsu turned to go back to the counter he saw that some of that sad look had returned to her face now.
"I guess it's possible," he told her. "There’s no real reason to worry about it, though; it’s so rare most people still don’t even know it can happen. Would you be sad to lose that?"
"I would now. I always thought it would be great to have powers, and then it was a pain to have them. But I’m starting to get used to it. And if you can use yours to be a cool Hero, maybe I can do that, too."
Kotetsu had to look away a moment with a beaming smile, taking a moment to enjoy what she had just said. "Well, you never needed to have powers to be like your dad," he said, patting her back. "That wasn't what made you so brave yesterday."
She looked a little embarrassed by his gushing again. "I didn't really do anything," she muttered. "It was all by accident when I changed everyone's memories back."
"But you came all the way here determined to do something! That was—Well, I shouldn't be praising you, really.” He frowned. "It was dangerous, running off from home like that and coming here alone. You have to promise me you'll never do anything like that again."
"What if I just came to live with you here?"
His eyes widened a little. "Kaede, I wish that were possible..."
"I know if you keep being a Hero for a while you'll be busy a lot, but I don't need looking after all the time now. I'm older now and I can use your Hundred Power."
"But you would just be alone most of the time.”
"I already feel alone a lot! My whole life's changed because of my powers and my friends don't get it. They're jealous and sick of hearing about it, like they think I feel special now or something, even though it sucks a lot going through this sometimes. But if I lived here I could go to the Hero Academy and meet lots of other kids like me.”
Feeling overwhelmed by the very suggestion right now, Kotetsu scratched the back of his head with a nervous laugh. “Now you’re getting ahead of yourself, honey. Maybe we can talk about that when you’re actually ready for high school.”
She sighed heavily. “I just wish you didn't have to stop being Wild Tiger,” she said with a pout. “I didn’t even get to enjoy having a dad who’s on TV while it lasted.”
He hesitated before his next words, knowing he needed to finally make some things clear that would not be easy to say. “Kaede, will you look at me? I need you to hear me out now and try to understand something.” He took both her wrists to gently pull her around in the chair to face him. “Finding out my powers are declining was only the start of so many things in my life suddenly going wrong or getting crazy lately. The whole issue of whether I’m quitting has gotten a lot more complicated since I promised you I’d be moving back home, and I can’t even really think about it yet because now I’m actually needed here for a different reason.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’m serious about you and I seeing more of each other from now on. On a regular schedule. But uh...”
Kaede was watching attentively, and he knew he just had to say it.
“I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to leave Sternbild like I said, even if I won’t be a Hero anymore,” he said. “I know having your grandma and uncle is no replacement for having your dad around, especially now that you’re going through this big change and they can’t understand that like I do. I know what it’s like, I felt just as alone and I also couldn’t wait for the day I could go live somewhere else and just start over.”
”Really?“ she asked softly.
“Sure! I was crying myself to sleep some nights, wishing I could just be normal. But things did get better. I got to know your mom and Antonio. I learned to like my powers.”
As she registered that, he prepared himself uneasily for saying the rest.
“Kaede, after all the times I’ve let you down it is so not fair for me to ask you to think of someone else’s needs before your own right now. But the thing is Barnaby is going through the hardest time he’s had since he lost his parents. Like I said I know it’s not the same, but even without me, you do still have family at home you can count on. But believe it or not, Bunny doesn’t really have anyone but me.”
She looked completely confused by this in the most innocent way. “Barnaby doesn’t…?” Then after a thoughtful silence spent looking down at the counter, she just said, “Oh.”
“Yeah. I guess on TV he tends to make it look like everything’s easy for him, but even Heroes need someone in difficult times, you know.”
She looked like she was trying to fit a bunch of disparate pieces together in her mind and ended up thinking back to something. “The time he saved me at the skating rink...did he know who I was?”
Kotetsu smiled. “No. He was a bit stunned to put it together later when he saw you in photos.”
The idea of him showing Barnaby Brooks Jr. pictures of her seemed to be doing a number on her head—along with, he imagined, the broad reality of him she’d now been faced with: that he was her dad’s partner and that meant he and all Heroes must be otherwise more or less ordinary people like her dad, and that Barnaby wasn’t truly the ever cool and untouchable guy she’d seen on TV but a vulnerable human being who’d just shown everyone more of himself on camera than intended.
What he wasn’t telling her, of course, was how his so recently changed relationship with Barnaby was also a sudden complication thrown into the question of his plans for the future. She certainly had enough to process already without him rushing into the delicate matter of letting her know about that.
“As for my job,” he went on, “it really means a lot to me that you don’t want me to quit. But if I say I might go back to work as a Hero after all, Barnaby might feel like he should keep doing it to be there for me as my partner, even though it may not be the best thing for him now. So I want to let him come to a decision about it on his own before I think too much about it. Do you understand?"
After thinking about that with a somewhat conflicted look, she said, "Yeah. Okay."
Kotetsu could see the sympathy she felt hearing all this and that she wanted to say the right thing even if she couldn't completely understand. He smiled warmly at her and patted her shoulder. “You’re not mad?”
She was still staring forward thoughtfully. “No, Dad...What always made me mad was you lying all the time. Giving me your lame excuses when you couldn’t come see me.” Her look was growing pained in a way that made Kotetsu feel fifty kinds of awful. “If you’d only said...”
“I’m sorry, Kaede.” He pulled her close into a hug, and this time she didn’t try to pull herself loose in embarrassment. “You mean the whole world to me. I always wanted you to know who I really was. In the time since we lost your mother, I...I’ve had trouble knowing what’s best for this family at times. I’m a ridiculous old man, I’m so sorry.” He pulled away, keeping one hand at her back. “Can you forgive me?”
Her answer was just to give a small nod. He smiled, leaned in and lightly kissed her head before rising to start gathering the dishes. “So. Your uncle is coming to get you at the train station tomorrow night. I need to take it easy today, but tomorrow we can go out and do whatever you want. We could do some shopping if there’s something you need. Or go to the theme park…”
“Hmm.” Kaede thought for a moment, running her finger around the rim of her can of soda, and then her eyes brightened. “I want to see the rest of the place where you work! Can we go there?”
“Huh?” He looked up at her with a flabbergasted smile. “But it’s mostly like what you saw. Just boring offices and stuff. That’s not where all the exciting stuff happens.”
“But it’s not really what I imagined. That’s why I want to see what you actually do all day.”
“Jeez,” he said softly, stopping to think about it. Setting foot in Apollon Media again so soon, and for what might be seen as a frivolous reason, could have a lot of potential for awkwardness. He also doubted he could muster the same enthusiasm for giving her such a tour as he might have had before all recent events. But he couldn’t imagine security wouldn’t let him in when he still hadn’t even officially resigned and cleaned out his desk and locker, and he could probably bring in his daughter as a visitor as long as any Heroes who might be on the premises out of disguise gave their approval.
And all else aside, Kotetsu knew if he could have had a chance at Kaede’s age to see the places where the stars of Hero TV hung out at work every day it would have been the most exciting day ever. When he thought of that, it was hard not to be glad for this kind of chance to make her happy.
“Okay,” he said, “I can’t promise they’ll let me take you in there, but probably.”
Kaede clapped her hands in excitement. “Thank you!”
“Now why don’t you go pick something to watch on TV? Anything but the news.”
Later in the evening Ben called him to check in and see how he was doing after yesterday’s insanity and then met him and Kaede, who he’d only ever seen before when she was very little, for a late dinner at a nearby restaurant. Kotetsu quickly discovered how easily his daughter could be entertained hearing stories about his early days as a Hero, even though many of them were somewhat embarrassing ones about blunders he’d made in the process of saving people or catching criminals.
While Kaede was in the bathroom for a few minutes, Ben grimly brought up something he had seen on the news about some anti-NEXT messages that had recently been graffitied on the wall surrounding the Hero Academy, probably in response to the revelation about Albert Maverick.
Kotetsu wasn’t sure what to say in response to this, and when Ben saw his expression he looked apologetic. “I’m sorry for bringing it up,” he said.
“It’s okay, it’s just…There’s nothing I can do about how people feel about this. I can’t make it my problem right now.”
Ben was one of his oldest friends and he knew he would like to eventually tell him about the recent major development in his life regarding Barnaby, but at a time like this when his daughter could reappear at any moment he had to be a little vague about the nature of his priorities.
“Of course,” Ben said. “But you haven’t said much about how you feel about it.”
“Well, I’ll tell you when I know for sure.”
Ben grimaced a little. “I hear you. I can’t say it isn’t getting to me a little. I worked in that world for more years than you have and I heard about things getting covered up, as you know, but criminal things? I know you were already planning on quitting, but I was just wondering if this makes it any easier for you.”
“I wouldn’t say Apollon has burned every bridge with me, but yeah…It’s easier to focus on the important things I’ve been neglecting now, that’s for sure. I’m just trying to be there for Kaede and Barnaby right now instead of thinking much about all of that.”
While Kaede had been using the shower earlier that day, he had put the news on just long enough to grasp the important points of what Apollon Media had revealed at a press conference that day, including that the current season of Hero TV would be on hiatus for a week or so as they dealt with changes in management and staff. Kotetsu wouldn’t be surprised if they were already searching for potential new Heroes to sign in case he and Barnaby were never coming back.
Paying any attention to it all mostly just made him feel tired and numb, it was still so surreal. The truth was if he let himself stop and process his feelings about the whole thing, especially his anger over what that horrible man had done to Barnaby and his family, he didn’t think he would be able to prop himself up and focus on supporting him as he went through this like he needed to.
Later when their food had been served and they were all less engaged in conversation for a minute, Kotetsu took a moment to send Barnaby a text, saying just Hey.
Barnaby's response came less than a minute later. Hey yourself.
It was ridiculous how just two words on a screen from a person he’d exchanged tons of messages with before affected him now, but he had to restrain himself from calling attention to what he was doing by too obviously smiling like an idiot as he typed back a reply.
My daughter said I was cool today.
Promptly Barnaby sent back, I guess I don’t have to ask how you’re feeling now.
Seriously that’s great.
Still wishing I could be in two places at once though.
I’m taking Kaede to Apollon tomorrow. Somehow she hasn’t had her fill and wants a tour. Let me know if you left anything there you need.
God. She is definitely your daughter.
Kotetsu smirked at that. We're having dinner with my old boss at that Italian place you like. I could order something to bring you when I see you tomorrow night.
Anything else you need?
No. Thanks. Stop being that annoying person texting his boyfriend at dinner, I'm okay.
Kotetsu couldn't contain himself from smiling again. Okay. See you tomorrow.
The Apollon Media employees Kotetsu encountered the next day were surprised to see him there with his daughter, but all very accommodating once they learned the reason. He certainly got the impression after a while that they felt the need to bend over backwards to earn back the good will of one of the show’s most valuable Heroes.
Less unexpected was how welcoming Mr. Saito was when they went by his lab, even though they found him quite busy examining the Wild Tiger imposter for any evidence of where it had come from (Kotetsu had managed to forget all about this particular mystery ever since the shock of finding out their CEO was behind everything, but apparently the other Heroes had discovered yesterday it was some kind of robot all along). He let Kaede see a training program in the simulation room and gave her a brief tour of the lab, enjoying as usual any chance to show off his tech. Before they left he opened up a cabinet where he kept a supply of extra callbands that hadn’t been activated and gave one to her, saying she could use it to run a five-minute countdown clock when she used her father’s Hundred Power. Even though it was useless for anything but that and telling the time, Kaede was very pleased to have one just like every Hero wore and thanked him excitedly once she could finally understand what he was saying.
After that Kotetsu showed her his office desk, a bit shamefully cluttered. (“This is where I have to do all the boring paperwork following every mission that gets filed with the Justice Bureau,” he explained.) He showed her the studio where specials with a live audience were filmed. (“This is where we do boring self-congratulatory interviews.”) Then Saito’s freaky sleep chambers. (“This is where Mr. Saito tortures Bunny and me for not being well-rested.”) And lastly there was the training center, “where all the Heroes are supposed to do boring exercise, but most of the time just stand around gossiping.”
This proved to be as true as ever when they reached the lounge right outside the gym and found Nathan and Karina sitting there with their lunches out and what looked like some paperwork on the table in front of them that they were currently ignoring in favor of chatting softly. They were wearing their gym clothes and Karina looked flushed enough that she might have managed to get in some time on the treadmill even with her arm still in its cast, but they appeared to be here at this time of day mostly out of habit.
”Hey, Tiger,” said Nathan as they approached, both of them looking up and waving in greeting.
“Nice to see you again, Kaede,” Karina said.
Kaede looked up at Kotetsu with some obvious confusion, which brought amused smiles to the others’ faces. “Don’t you remember Fire Emblem and Blue Rose?” he said.
She looked back at them with clear realization dawning on her, regarding their faces more closely, and her expression turned a little shyer. “Oh! It’s so nice to meet you. Again, I mean.”
“We heard your dad is showing you around the place,” Nathan said with a smile at her. “You must be a really big fan.”
Kaede nodded with enthusiasm, still looking almost beside herself. It was funny how it seemed different for her to meet them this way when she’d been so brazen encountering them on live television in the middle of a desperate situation.
Nathan reached for a folder on the table in front of them. “Say, we could use a fan’s input on something. Want to see some possible new designs for our costumes?”
Nathan was already getting up to let her sit down next to Karina. “Blue Rose and I are going to be partners now so our outfits have to go together,” he explained, gently directing her toward the seat with his hands on her shoulders. “But we’re not sure which of these concepts we like the best. Why don’t you take a look?”
Karina looked a little confused but went along with it, taking the sketches out to show Kaede as Nathan pulled Kotetsu aside. Kotetsu himself did not realize that Nathan’s intention was to get a moment to talk to him alone until he got him out of earshot of the others.
“How are you doing, honey?” he asked. “You don’t look so awful for someone who just…Well, we all fucking know what happened.”
Kotetsu smirked a bit grimly. “Thanks. I feel alright.”
Nathan got to the point as he took something out of his pocket. “So I called Barnaby this morning to check in on him and ask if there was anything I could do for him. I figured he’ll be holed up at home trying to avoid public attention for a while so I was able to talk him into letting me lend him my assistant for the morning so she could bring him some groceries. As long as she was coming by, he wanted me to get this passed on to you when you came in.”
He handed Kotetsu a closed envelope with no writing on it. When Kotetsu opened it, he found nothing inside but a small silver-tone key.
The spare key to Barnaby’s apartment. Kotetsu froze as he looked down at it in his hand, unable to help but smile at it warmly.
Nathan had looked slightly away with his arms crossed casually as he opened it, clearly trying not to be nosy and look. But Kotetsu wasn’t exactly being discreet about it and now he was more pretending that he didn’t see what was in his hand or couldn’t imagine what it signified.
“Come to think of it,” he said airily, “Handsome also didn’t seem to be feeling too terrible for someone who just…you know.”
Kotetsu smirked at him again. “Is there something you’re trying to ask?”
Nathan grasped his upper arm and hung onto it, nagging him playfully with his most exaggerated pout. “Oh, come on, I need some good news. Are you two…?”
Kotetsu let his grin answer the question as he shrugged Nathan off of him, then glanced warily over at the girls several feet away. “Don’t act too happy, okay? My daughter doesn’t know anything.”
“Oh, Tiger!” he said in a delighted whisper. “Now I can worry about something else besides you two fools for once.”
Kotetsu frowned a little. “Shouldn't be very hard for you to find other things. Have you heard from Origami?”
“Yeah,” Nathan answered, mirroring his look. “He’s okay, just feeling understandably disenchanted. He’s talking about taking a vacation somewhere to take time to think about things. He’s not even sure at this point that he’d want to come back to the job if given the chance.”
This perhaps should have come as a bit more of a shock, but the last few days had worn down on Kotetsu in such a way that it was apparently hard for much more to shock him. “Maybe I should give him a call when I get the chance.”
“We’re all getting together with him later to go visit Sky High in the hospital. I’ll give him your best.”
“Thanks.” He looked over at Kaede and Karina, who appeared to still be talking amiably, and called over. “Kaede, have you seen enough?”
She looked over at him with mild disappointment. “Is there no more?”
“That’s pretty much it unless you want to see the dirty gym clothes inside my locker.”
She wrinkled her nose at that. “I’m hungry. I want a cheeseburger.”
Nathan and Karina both laughed softly as Kotetsu motioned her over so they could leave.
It was past eight by the time he had taken Kaede to meet Muramasa at the station and made it over to Barnaby’s building. When he reached the door to his apartment and took out the key Barnaby had given him, he stilled a moment before unlocking the door and looked over at one of the small statues decorating the hallway, the one that formerly had been Barnaby’s hiding place for the same key. He had to smile softly to himself, thinking how much had changed since that day Barnaby had used it in front of him and how long ago that felt.
He found the apartment dimly lit and assumed Barnaby might have briefly gone out for something, hearing nothing as he went back to the kitchen to put the food he had brought for him in the fridge. But on his way back through the hall he glanced into Barnaby’s room and saw him asleep on the bed.
He was in his clothes and shoes, appearing to have unintentionally drifted off to sleep that way while looking through a large photo album that lay open under one of his arms. Kotetsu came in and quietly, lightly lowered himself on the edge of the bed to sit in front of him. He glanced down at some of the photos he had been looking at in the album. One showed him with his father kneeling beside him by a lake at some park, or perhaps the Brooks’ own estate, as he fed pieces of bread to ducks. In another he stood holding hands with Samantha in front of a grand fireplace, both of them smiling sweetly and looking like they were dressed to go out somewhere.
Kotetsu’s heart panged a little as he looked from them to Barnaby, oblivious and breathing softly in sleep. He must not have been sleeping well these past nights if he’d dozed off like this, which was hardly a surprise. Kotetsu carefully extricated the photo album from under him to close it and set it aside on the nightstand next to a glass of water left there, then had to just as carefully go about removing Barnaby’s glasses without bending them or waking him and put them down on top of the album. He had slowly unlaced and slid off his boots and was about to pull the covers over him when he noticed a change in Barnaby; a distressed crease in his brow had formed and his breathing was all the sudden getting quick and tense.
“Bunny?” he said, moving forward from the foot of the bed. Barnaby twitched violently as he reached for him, turning his head and rolling a little to one side, as his breathing quickly intensified. Kotetsu grasped his shoulder to try to shake him awake.
As soon as he touched him Barnaby’s eyes flew open and he glowed blue, throwing himself forward in a momentary panic. The glass on the nightstand was knocked aside and shattered. On instinct Kotetsu activated his powers too, his enhanced speed and reflexes allowing him to react and move with him so that Barnaby didn’t hurt him too much as he shoved him backwards and in an instant had him pinned to the floor under his body, legs straddling him.
The back of Kotetsu’s head had met the carpet with a hard slam, and he was still seeing spots when Barnaby very quickly realized what had happened and said practically in a gasp, “Oh no…”
Kotetsu felt the immediate shifting of Barnaby’s weight as he started to move off of him and he quickly reached up to take his arm before he could pull completely away in his anxious state.
“I’m so sorry. Shit…” The words were muffled as he covered his face with his hands, shaking. Kotetsu sat up to stop him from doing that also, bracing his weight back on one hand while Barnaby was still partly on top of him and using the other to draw Barnaby’s hands away from his face so he could look at him.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said softly. “It’s okay.”
“Are you alright?” Barnaby kept a hold of Kotetsu’s hand as he backed off of him this time and rose to his feet, trying to help him up.
“I’m fine—Wait.” He held Barnaby’s legs in place to stop him from moving further before he stood up. “Be careful, there’s glass. Let me get it…”
He gently pushed Barnaby backwards towards the bed and got him to sit down and stay there while he went to go grab a small garbage can. He brought one in from the bathroom and Barnaby just watched as he carefully picked up all the pieces of glass he could see, then put a towel he’d brought over that area of the carpet to cover any smaller pieces that would need to be vacuumed later. By the time he was done his powers and Barnaby’s had been expended and the room had only the soft light from one lamp again.
He left the room once more to get a new glass of water from the kitchen. When he came back and met eyes with Barnaby as he placed it on the nightstand, he saw something unbearably soft in his eyes, as if he’d become almost overcome with emotion just watching Kotetsu do these little things. He reached out for Kotetsu’s arm right after he set the glass down to pull him forward toward the bed, as if he could have been headed anywhere else.
“Hi,” Kotetsu said warmly as he sat next to him and they simultaneously pulled each other into a tight hug.
“Hi,” he whispered back.
Kotetsu moved his hand in a soothing circle around his upper back. “I missed you.”
Barnaby seemed to have mostly calmed down but Kotetsu could feel his breathing still coming out unsteady, the lingering presence of the nightmare. As he pulled away to look at him, he raised a hand to his face. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Barnaby put a hand over his and squeezed it lightly. “Not really,” he said with the weakest dry smile. “Did I hurt you?”
“No, I said I’m fine.”
Still looking worried, Barnaby reached for his waist. “You must still be in pain after…And now I…”
Kotetsu stopped him in the middle of trying to pull up the bottom of his shirt. The truth was the contusions all over his torso still hurt badly enough that Barnaby pouncing on top of him had not been fun, but he couldn’t care about that in the least and he hadn’t come here to let Barnaby get a good look at all the ugly colors his bruises had turned in the places he had given him the worst beating. So he caught both his hands in his and drew him forward again to distract him with a soft but very sure and deliberate kiss.
Barnaby’s next release of breath sounded slightly irritated, but he closed his eyes and held the kiss a moment, his body relaxing in concession. When they broke apart he casually reached over to touch Kotetsu’s knee. “Did you have a good time with Kaede?”
“Yeah.” Kotetsu had to smile broadly. “I…kind of can’t believe it. It was pretty great. I feel a lot better about things between us now.”
Barnaby smiled back. “Good. That’s really good.” He covered his mouth as he yawned, drawing his feet up onto the bed to sit cross-legged. “I’m sorry I fell asleep when I was expecting you.”
“It’s okay. I’m sure you needed it.”
“Would you mind just…staying here? Just until I fall asleep again?”
“Bunny.” Kotetsu started drawing the blankets back. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Once he had kicked his shoes off and turned off the lamp, they settled down under the covers facing each other. Kotetsu could still make out some of Barnaby’s face in the little bit of light coming from the hall.
“It feels like it was a long time ago when you first slept here," Barnaby said.
"When we passed out drunk on the floor?"
Remembering that made him smile faintly. "No, I mean in this bed. Just a few days ago."
"Yeah," Kotetsu said, quiet and serious. He could recall acutely how painful a time that had been, only to be followed by worse.
“That was probably the first time I really knew how stupid I’d been.”
Kotetsu reached over and took his hand he had resting on his pillow. “What do you mean?”
Barnaby was silent for a moment. "I remember just lying here listening to you breathe next to me,” he finally said. “Like you being here was the only thing that made sense in the world then. And you had no idea…I could tell you were so wary of making me uncomfortable because of how I’d felt about you kissing me and that made me feel terrible. Because it was the first time I was fully aware I would trust you with more than my life. As more than a partner…”
“Bunny,” Kotetsu whispered, grasping his hand tighter.
With a full heart he remembered the strange dream he'd had once about being in this bed with him, when this room had seemed to him like a mysterious forbidden fortress in an apartment he could never imagine filled with any warmth. The spareness of its interior was a testament to how practical and non-materialistic Barnaby was at heart, and Kotetsu had often wondered if he only chose to live in such an expensive place because he was more wary of certain threats than the average person and the security here was so good that keeping an extra key right outside his door was no great risk. Barnaby had lived his life isolating himself inside a cold cell, helplessly unaware that there were already things inside those defenses that shouldn’t be there.
Yet somehow they’d ended up here together and Barnaby was able to trust the most clumsy and careless property-damage proficient of superhero history absolutely. With his heart, his body, his future.
Kotetsu came close to kiss his forehead, closing his eyes and lingering there a moment. He muttered, "Bunny, I would never hurt you.”
He felt Barnaby sigh against him. “Did you hear anything I just said? I know.” His small voice didn’t match the bantering words.
“I just want you to hear it when you can believe it’s true. I know I did hurt you before, I messed up. But I’ll never abandon you when you need me or hide anything from you again.”
“I know.” Barnaby pulled back to look at his face. "I’ve had all this time these past days to think back on everything, all I remember of Maverick, I guess trying to see some logic in it. I’ve been trying to remember if there was ever a time I should have seen that something was wrong. And I know…I know I never could have seen what he was doing and how he was using me. But there were times I wish I could have trusted my own feelings better, if only so I could have let myself be closer to you sooner.
“The time he convinced me to do that press conference and talk publicly about what happened to my parents, you worried about whether I really wanted to, and you made sure to be there supporting me when I did it. And then when I was being hard on you after you kissed me and he wanted me to make up with you to preserve our professional relationship, again it was clear all you cared about was me and my feelings. He was so good at making me feel like my needs and his were the same when he wasn’t thinking about mine at all. But I could appreciate the difference in the way you treated me, I just couldn’t explain it to myself. The way you made me feel…”
Kotetsu held him close again as he heard his voice tightening with emotion.
“I’ve always felt safe with you, in a way I never had since…" His voice trailed off a moment and then came out soft as before, but firm and sure. "Kotetsu, I love you."
It perhaps shouldn’t have struck him so deeply with surprise to hear it. He knew Barnaby wasn’t the kind of person to do anything by halves, and that included the way he got close to people. It seemed he always either kept them at a distance or whole-heartedly believed in them and let them deep into his life and his heart. It was what had made earning his trust little by little often feel like a frustratingly futile endeavor, and also what had made it so worth it in the end.
Kotetsu touched his forehead to his, running a hand down his arm in the dark. "Yeah," he murmured. "I mean—not 'Yeah,' I mean me, too. I love you, too." He sighed, rolling his eyes at himself, and quickly resolved to just start over. "I love you."
Barnaby shook with a silent laugh as he circled an arm tightly around Kotetsu and tucked his head under his chin. "Idiot," he said into his chest, sounding like he might be crying a little.